A few days ago, the full trailer for the new Vince Vaughn comedy Delivery Man hit the internet, no doubt creating a tizzy for the people who enjoy his douchey, obnoxious comedic stylings. I’m not one of those people, but the trailer did lead me to something far more interesting, the French Canadian film Delivery Man is based on, Starbuck. While I have grave doubts about the remake, the kind of doubts that prompt me to buy a shovel ahead of time, Starbuck was a surprising treat, more drama than comedy in a lot of ways, and one of the more emotionally sincere movies I’ve seen recently.
If you’ve seen the trailer for Delivery Man, you already know the plot for Starbuck, because by the looks of things they’re sticking as close to the original as possible. After donating his sperm what could probably be called an excessive number of times in the 80s, workaday schlub David Wozniak finds he’s unknowingly fathered over 500 children, 142 of whom want to find out who he is. After receiving a folder with their profiles from his amply proportioned lawyer friend, Wozniak decides to NOT man up and come forward, instead opting to find them one by one and do something to improve their lives, a kind of guardian angel in a grubby Avengers t-shirt. But after getting to know more and more of them, some of whom even glean his identity, David starts to consider coming forward. Of course, while all this is happening, he’s got a pregnant girlfriend, mob legbreakers after him, and a family who thinks he’s a worthless ass.
When I said before that this is more drama than comedy, I really meant it. Going in, I expected the movie to just play the absurdity of the situation, and David’s efforts at improving his unwitting children’s lives, as a series of largely unrelated comedic scenes. But really, the comedy of the movie mostly comes from the sheer absurdity of the premise and David’s interactions with the aforementioned lawyer friend. The rest of it, his attempts at helping his children, trying to improve his life, and coming to terms with the situation he’s found himself in, are played rather straight. Make no mistake, this movie spends most of its time trying very hard to make you blubber like a small child with its finger stuck the door of a flaming car.
Perhaps a bit too hard, in some cases. There’s this whole sequence when all the “Children of Starbuck” take a break from filing a class-action suit against their absentee father to have a camping trip and at time’s it’s so goddamn picturesque it makes you want to vomit. Lots of French acoustic guitar flailings while people jump into a lake in slow-motion and take pictures and play sports badly, but they can laugh about it and doesn’t this all just look like a commercial for fucking Weetabix or something.
Other times, however, it does manage to feel touching without being saccharine and cheesy, like David’s mostly silent interaction with the one child with severe mental disabilities, or the final scene with his girlfriend that probably has as much real emotional depth as you can possibly have in a movie based around a guy who jerked off into a cup a few hundred times, which turns out to be a lot.
Now, all this isn’t to say the movie isn’t really damn funny, which it is. Co-Star Antoine Bertrand absolutely kills as David’s hapless lawyer, usually playing the manic voice of reason against Patrick Huard’s David. Julie Lebreton also has a pretty great turn as the girlfriend, though admittedly most of the really heavy acting work comes in that last scene.
The script is also a tad mixed. On the one hand, the character progression is pretty solid, and the more you learn about David’s past, the more his actions in the present start to make sense. Especially in one scene, we learn an important detail that puts a lot of David’s behavior in context, once you connect the dots, which is something the movie doesn’t do for you, I’d like to add. This isn’t a film that holds your hand and carefully explains everything that’s happening like you’re a five year-old.
On the other hand, it does feel a tad padded at times. David’s troubles with one Goth-y kid who discovers who he is and imposes himself on David’s life while threatening to expose him feel like the movie’s stalling for time a bit, and the scene where an exasperated David tries to get the kid to play soccer, despite the lad having all the athletic ability of a mopey, fringe haired houseplant, feels like one of the few times the movie is just mugging for laughs.
Despite its flaws, however, Starbuck is probably one of the more surprising films I’ve seen this year, mostly because of how much emotion it manages to pull out of the insane premise. This isn’t a comedy that isn’t constantly hitting you with comedy beats and desperately trying for laughs. Most of the comedy just comes from the absurdity of the situation, and for the rest of the time the film is more concerned with making you feel for the characters, something the movie does incredibly well. When David gets backed into a corner by the end of the film, you really feel for him.
Just last night, I was talking with a friend about how easily comedic actors take to dramatic work. If you can make someone laugh, it isn’t hard to make them cry. While Starbuck at times tries a bit too hard to elicit tears rather than laughs, and maybe a bit too hard to get laughs as well, it’s still a surprisingly thoughtful and introspective film, with the kind of heart Vince Vaughn and co. will probably have little luck replicating.